INDEPENDENCE — LeBron James made 15 straight 3-pointers from the top of the arc Friday afternoon while going through his personal shooting drill after practice.
Much more important for the Cavaliers, who trail the Boston Celtics 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, is transferring that offensive efficiency to the court tonight at 8:30 in Game 3 at The Q.
“Very rarely in the playoffs is your first action going to be open,” Cleveland swingman Kyle Korver said. “You run a play, you run a set, very rarely is that shot going to be wide open.
“You’ve got to keep passing the ball, you’ve got to keep on moving, you’ve got to keep setting screens. You’ve got to take the ball out of bounds faster, you’ve got to run up the court faster and you’ve got to make them make mistakes. If you play slow, they’re just too good.”
In losing the first two games of the series by an average of 19.0 points, the Cavs averaged just 88.5 points. Worse, they shot .410 (68-for-166), including .246 on 3-pointers (14-for-57).
In the regular season, Cleveland averaged 110.9 points on .476 shooting. It connected at a .372 clip from behind the arc while making an average of 12.0 3-pointers a game.
“That’s what happens when you advance in the playoffs,” Korver said. “We’re not expecting if we run the play right, we’ll get wide-open shots. That’s not the way it works anymore. There’s four teams left for a reason. We’ve just got to make the shots that we get and know they might not all be wide-open ones.”
Having not played since losing Game 2 107-94 on Tuesday, the Cavs have spent a big chunk of their practice time the last two days — they were off Wednesday — working on their struggling offense.
The biggest message from coach Tyronn Lue has been playing with increased pace, with an emphasis on more player and ball movement, and eliminating careless turnovers that lead to easy Boston points.
“That’s something we’ve always preached here,” power forward Kevin Love said of increasing the pace. “We’ve seen that they’ve been able to contest so many of our shots. That brings your percentages down.
“When we play with pace, we’re able to let Bron play downhill and we’re able to open up the floor and get those shots and shoot a higher percentage. That’s key for us.”
Through two games, the Cavs have just 36 assists on their 68 field goals, with James responsible for 21 of the helpers. That means only .529 of their field goals are coming off assists, as compared to .579 in the regular season, when they averaged 23.4 assists per game.
“You’ve got to continue to play the pace that got you there,” Lue said. “Most importantly, take care of the basketball. You can’t give this team easy baskets. They struggle to score at times, so you just can’t gift them easy baskets.”
The Cavs committed a surprisingly low nine turnovers in their 108-83 debacle in Game 1, with James responsible for seven of them. They had 15 in Game 2, with James committing six, meaning he has 13 of the team’s 24 turnovers.
Things went particularly haywire in the second half of Game 2, when Cleveland was outscored 59-39.
“The second half we got frustrated and we just slowed down,” Korver said. “We were walking the ball up the court, they were into us and we didn’t get to our spots. We didn’t take many good shots in the second half. They were part of that, but there’s a lot of things we can do better.”
After nearly every Celtics made basket in the second half of Game 2, the Cavs walked the ball up the floor. Worse, even after Boston misses, they sought out James instead of immediately looking to push the pace.
Allowed to set up their defense, the Celtics repeatedly made Cleveland pay.
“They just have a lot of versatile pieces,” Korver said. “They’re doing a lot of switching. They’re loading up LeBron, but they’re not double-teaming, so it appears open, but there’s nothing that’s wide open for us. They’re playing really hard. They’re just playing really solid.
“We’ve been too up and down. We have to be more consistent with our energy. We can’t get frustrated when things don’t go the way we want them to. We’ve got to stay positive.”
Compounding the problem is the fact the Cavs have given James and Love very little help. Those two players have combined for 96 points on 35-for-77 shooting (.455) in the series, but the rest of the team has just 81 on 33-for-89 (.371).
The worst offender has been J.R. Smith, who is 2-for-16 from the field and 0-for-7 on 3-pointers, but the Cavs also could use more offense from guys like George Hill and Jeff Green, who are both 3-for-8 from the floor.
Role players tend to perform better at home, but the three-time reigning conference champion Cavs, who are in their 15th playoff series over the last four seasons, know they have to make it happen tonight.
“It’s felt like a number of seasons in one,” Love said of his fourth year with the Cavs. “Frustration is always going to happen within a season. There’s highs and there’s the lows.
“The expectation is very high here with the talent that we have and the veterans that we have and what we believe we’re capable of. Anytime you lose, there’s going to be some frustration and ways to get better. Guys need to pick up their level of play, but that’s all the way across the board.”
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